'We cut Georgia arms sales months ago'

Official: We saw surge in requests for weapons, and we therefore decided to minimize entire issue.

Georgia burning 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Georgia burning 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel has rejected frequent requests for arms from Georgia in the months leading up to the outbreak of hostilities with Russia, and an attempt by Georgia to procure missiles from Israel ended in failure, a defense official told the Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "Several months ago, we carried out an evaluation of the situation in Georgia and realized that Georgia and Russia were on a collision course. We have good relations with both, and don't want to back either in this conflict," the official said. "We therefore made a decision to drastically minimize sales of weapons to Georgia. Frantic requests from Georgia to Israel for military hardware leading up to the current conflict with Russia set off alarm bells at the Ministry of Defense. "We saw that there was a surge in requests for weapons, and we therefore decided to, in effect, minimize the entire issue. After our decision, we sold only defensive weapons in small quantities to Georgia," he said. "If Georgia asks us to send in first aid to treat casualties, we will oblige. But we will not get into the heart of the war between Georgia and Russia," he added. Some of the Israeli sales with Georgia in the past included night-vision equipment, rifles and unmanned drones for gathering intelligence. Israel did not agree, however, to upgrade the drones to those that possess high intelligence-gathering capabilities, the defense official said. The drones were sold to Georgia by Elbit, and the deal was closed by the former minister Ronnie Milo, who represented the defense electronics company in Georgia, the official said. Milo was not available for comment on Sunday. The official described how a frustrated Israeli businessman had asked and was denied approval to sell weapons to the Georgians one month ago. "He complained that he was not being allowed to sell, and that the Germans and the Americans were moving in [on his business]. We told him, we are not Europe or the US... we will not approve this sale." No tanks, planes, or missiles have ever been supplied to Georgia by Israel, he added, emphasizing that the majority of Georgia's weapons had been supplied by other states. China supplies used Kalashnikovs to the Georgian military, while Slovenia has sold Georgia armored personnel carriers, the official said. The idea that Israeli arms sales to Georgia were somehow linked to the supply of Russian arms reaching Hizbullah or Iran was not held by the Defense Ministry, the official added. "Our sales won't affect the Russians. They'll continue to sell weapons irrespective of our sales. That is our understanding," he said. The official confirmed that former Galilee Div. commander Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsch had received approval from the Defense Ministry to train elite anti-terrorist units in the Georgian army, after the decision to minimize arms sales to the country had been taken. "He trained a few units there, not very many," the source said. "We had no objection to the Georgians acquiring anti-terrorism units - terrorism is a worldwide problem." But claims of large-scale training of Georgian forces by Israelis were "grossly exaggerated," the official said. "Ninety-five percent of Israelis in Georgia are there for civilian projects. Only 5% of them are there because of military affairs," he said. The official stressed that Israel had some of the most advanced laws on arms sales in the world. "Only the US is more advanced, because its laws permit the arrest of any arms merchants from any country. We can only deal with Israeli arms merchants," he said. "Our sales to Africa are very low. Sales to eastern Europe are low. Most of our sales are to the US, Europe, and some states in the far east." The laws were aimed at preventing sales of arms to any country suffering from civil war, or to states that could sell the weapons on to a third country hostile to Israel. Meanwhile, Defense sources have denied media reports which claimed that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had attended a meeting called to discuss Georgia on Sunday between the Foreign and Defense ministries. "We understand there are primaries on the horizon and that Livni's name needs to get into the newspapers, but she was not at the meeting," one source said. "There is a set representative of the Foreign Ministry who meets with the Defense Ministry, and today we discussed the issue of Georgia. Nothing was changed because nothing needs to be changed. We were in agreement to continue with our decision to seriously cut back weapons sales to Georgia. There is no pressure on the Defense Ministry coming from the Foreign Ministry on this issue," the source added.